All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie

Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, Rita, Iron Man



SOUND: Theme music, PERKY GUITAR as we see –

RADIO HOST is maybe 45. Slightly pale. Looks BUSINESS LIKE in shirt and tie. Sits at TABLE across from ASHBURY. Both wear HEADPHONES.

Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
ZYX Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

ASHBURY, in dark suit, black glasses. A green room WARRIOR of plastic age, demeanor is one who just UPGRADED TO FIOS.

Call me Ash. All my interns do.

Sooo. Your NRO review on Christopher Nolan’s
new movie Interstellaris burning up Buzzfeed.
But first, in the Washington Post you call for general European war


We’re already at war. I’m just saying it out loud.

Radio host reaches for a DUNKIN DONUTS coffee but pauses, picks up handwritten question LIST.

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Why Putin Knows Europe Loves It Rough

Timothy Snyder’s recent Kiev presentation on the contending civilizational processes clashing in Ukraine is terrific. He notes today is in many ways a re-litigation of World War I and the contending integrationist agendas in the East. Snyder is concise and lucid.

Snyder is mistaken, however, asserting that EU integration is attributable to military defeats in 1945. European fears about American influence before WW I are the real precursor. European dread then of looming American power before 1914 lead many to ask how Europe could contend with such continental scale market and civilization. They mirrored today’s Russian nationalist and fascist anti-American obsession. To misunderstand this genesis is to miss why Putin’s anti-American assault gains traction so widely in Europe beyond just Moscow funded neo-fascists.

Before WW I European business and governments alike felt compelled to ponder countering American affluence, economies of scale and corrosive ‘leveling’ though mass consumption. American intervention in 1917 confirmed its actual power, underscored by American wealth subsidizing both Weimar and Allied war debt from 1923’s Dawes Paris Conference on. Only England, relying on India, could reasonably think of future, potential near-peer scenarios. Continental European pre-war national rivalries continued to prevent post-war active collaboration.

The Corporal’s continental empire was one answer. Speer and his Ministry of Armaments initiated actual industrial integration only after 1942. Speer found willing partners in France, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Speer enrolled French partners in an effort to scale Luftwaffe production using French components. Baby steps, to be sure. Yet possible because Europe by the 1940s had spent almost half a century looking for an answer to “the American power of scale” and popular culture penetration.

The Soviets had their own answers. The first Five Year Plan began in 1929 (originally proposed in less colossal grandiosity by Trotsky in 1923).

Formal European integration restarted in 1950 building on a Speer-based concept – the European Coal & Steel Community. And so on to Maastricht in 1992, creating today’s EU. The newly born EU represented many new political strands and goals, naturally. One, however, remained. Behind the European ritual of equality and endless meetings and receptions, the EU also finally enabled more than a passively anti-American critique.

In policy terms, the most obvious manifestations immediately began with trade and regulation. The Euro was intended to supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The French quite openly called for the EU (as led by France) to stand up to the “US hyperpower” and so on. The EU’s feeble response to genocide in the Balkans dialed back some hubris. Libya was even worse. EU weakness over Ukraine revealed a unique moral betrayal.

The benefits of Atlantic integration and common cultural ties seemingly transcend these geo-strategic impulses. Most assume “the West” is and always has been “the Allies” (post 1945). Few Americans could explain the differences among the EU, “the Allies”, NATO or a Eurasian Customs Union. Yet still today, the EU regularly and eagerly seeks to curb or cripple American technology companies and promote and subsidize competitors. Co-dependent competition as rational policy choices does not explain the pervasive low-level anti-Americanism in Europe today. That political/psycho-emotional reality taps into something deeper than Iraq/Bush, the crushing aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis or the environment. European fixation on alleged NSA/intelligence community abuses (ignoring European practices) ostentatiously turns a blind eye to Russian penetration of their governments, parties and industry leadership for a reason.

Snyder’s excellent analysis of the European-Russian crisis is actually too constrained. Civilizational questions invoke far more than just 1914. Putin’s anti-Americanism is not just a potent Russian gambit. The ploy ignites a century of European resentments and fears, even if submerged by Cold War expediency until 1991.

Putin would be delighted if observers mistook his anti-American offensive as fuel for the ghetto of Kremlin supported anti-democratic figures such as France’s Le Pen and now Hungary’s Orban. Or for separatist groups such as UKIP in Great Britain. “Russia Today” recently began broadcasting in Germany. It blasts anti-Americanism using both the Left and Right. Political consistency is irrelevant. The goal is de-legitimation and fostering pervasive cynicism. Yes, as Snyder notes, to pull the EU down and apart. But that’s just a step to the ultimate prize.

When Putin speaks of a “united Europe whole and free from Lisbon to Vladivostok” it’s code for Russian revanchist, imperial terms: a continental answer to American (and now Chinese) scale dominated by Moscow. Few in Europe understand this or are motivated to see the difference. The game – and stakes – are much bigger than just the EU and its petty wrangling.

Russia, Ukraine, Europe, France, Germany, Mistral

Russia Loses Again in Ukraine, Keeps Raising The Ante

Putin keeps gambling. His first, impulsive attack on Ukraine in February 2014 netted him Crimea and 80% approval ratings. He’s stumbled since.

Russia failed to replicate the unopposed Crimean takeover in Ukraine’s Southeast from March-April. Moscow then threatened formal army invasion. That only solidified an improbable Ukrainian nationalism, creating a prohibitive cost. Ukrainians’ vote for Europeanist President Poroshenko is another blow. Yet Putin keeps doubling down on escalation, even if formal invasion isn’t on the table for now.

Putin and Russia Go Backwards
Nihilist Nostalgia

Putin’s goals lie beyond Ukraine. He seeks to alter fundamentally the global balance of power and pull down the liberal democratic order. It’s ambitious for a $2 trillion economy confronting a combined West of $32 trillion. Russia’s 2020 defense re-armament program tops $90 billion a year, against $1 trillion combined in the West.

Invading Ukraine in 2014 revealed Putin’s plans and techniques 5-7 years early. That’s the good news. Putin so far keeps testing his improvisation against a disorganized Western alliance. Why not keep doubling down?

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Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Episode Recap

State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

So we ask you to join in our poll:

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What’s So Funny About War, Budget Bloat And Nomenklatura Self-Interest?

DoD propaganda against the Budget Control Act’s sequester is remarkably shameless even for them. First, the ‘draconian’ cuts are anything but. They return DoD to Bush’s 2007 defense budget. DoD will get funded at the same level as at the height of a two-failed war bubble adjusted for inflation. Second, Obama (Romney?) ‘war’ outlays are specifically exempted. Sequester is not a ‘stab in the back’ to the ‘warfighter'(although it will be sold as such). Third, even if sequester is triggered this year, no budget cuts take effect until 2013 and can be postponed.

Sequester is an assault on DoD and its contractors’ privileged socio-economic position. Sure, debate will be framed in terms of ‘national security’. The truth? It’s about rice bowls, careers and status. And thus all the more fierce.

The DoD 2010 budget marked the apotheosis of American mindless spending on ‘national security’. So in that sense, returning to 2007 means a little over 10% cut. This reveals how Obama merely tinkered with Bush’s war economy.

Sequester Cuts Are Not Historically ‘Unprecedented’

What do 2007 budgets (adjusted for inflation) mean? Bush DoD budgets marked a 31% increase over Clinton outlays plus the additional, off-the-books outlays for the two-failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Panetta and company claim sequester will cut this or that favorite weapons program. Not actually true. Sequester specifically permits DoD to move moneys among accounts (which it already does anyway). Thus, DoD can make priority allocations within the double-war 2007 budget (adjusted for inflation) for programs, agencies, etc. DoD naturally doesn’t want to choose.

Should sequester happen, how ‘unprecedented’ are the cuts? Not very. After 1991, a bi-partisan consensus reduced DoD demands on the American economy by almost 35% from the Reagan years. Post-Vietnam saw not dissimilar ratios. Sequester would not match those levels.

The problem for DoD is that people represent its largest long term cost. And the Force is not going to change in size much. No cost savings there. Thus, the cuts have to come from elsewhere.

It’s All About The Broken Process Buying Broken Toys

What did grow under Bush/Obama is procurement, R&D and contractor outsourcing. (Along with global mission creep). Under Bush/Obama, procurement outlays are up almost 100% since 2000. Some went to immediate war theater needs. Much of it squandered by a broken (deliberately by industry collusion with Rummy) oversight and procurement process.

We wrote years ago here about the Pentagon’s scissors crisis for procurement (one example of many). Reagan-era platforms predictably were burned out through increased OPTEMPO. DoD failed to field generational replacements. You, Dear Reader, know about cost overruns re the F-22, the Army’s Future Combat System, or the absurd $1.5 trillion F-35. The broken procurement system is endemic.

Sequester might force two important policy objectives. One: DoD and its parasites must acknowledge they’re not immune to American economic circumstances. And two: DoD will have no choice but to get serious about acquisition reform and accept oversight with consequences. DoD and industry both want neither beyond superficial gestures.

DoD prefers that we all talk about specific weapons programs and missions. That debate is on their turf, their threats of district job loss, their slight of hand. Sadly, they’re likely to succeed.

12 years of Bush/Obama have so thoroughly militarized us and enshrined the false image of ‘warfighter’/national security apparatchik as untouchable, sanctified nobility. A rational conversation about American geostrategic commitments and interests, and allocation of resources accordingly is laughable.

Normally, a mature great power and healthy liberal democracy should avoid a sequester process. It’s a blunt instrument cost shifting congressional institutional failure into national security frameworks. From 1949-2000, civilians and the military in conversation resolved strategic footprints and their associated political economies with varying success. It’s our preferred process and the reason we initially opposed sequester.

You decide – America 2012 – how mature or healthy?

I Will Catch You When You Fall

God bless. In Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, too.

9//11, World Trade Center, Al Qaeda, Terrorism, War on Terror

This entire blog, from every comment from every reader, to every picture and typo – all of what we together have built is a living monument to 9/11 and its consequences. Proof that we do remember. Specifically, a recollection of 9/11 itself, with a link back to STSOZ 1.0 and Flight 93.

What do you think 9/11 means for us going forward?

NATO In Libya: A Mess

“The World’s Most Powerful Military Alliance” trumpets the accidental routing of a fourth rate tribal regime after months of literally pounding sand. Opening American bombardment aside, American logistics and C4ISR knitted together NATO’s later, successful campaign. Before that, other members appeared to confuse random bombing of various tents, hovels and the odd tank or two with a purposeful campaign.

As predicted, it took boots on the ground to change things. SAS from the UK et les autres rescued the disintegrating Western Libyan uprising, beginning with Misrata. Make no mistake. “NATO” airpower eventually proved capable (having exhausted its target set). This overlong campaign is in Tripoli now because of [unacknowledged] boots on the ground with air. Moreover, this ‘regime change’ was and remains contrary to the humanitarian UN authorizing resolution. Today’s “triumph” is premised on a fiction.

Those rushing to embrace Obama’s ‘vision’? The decision-making before and during action appears symptomatic. This White House’s unilateral assertion of war making power exceeds Cheney’s. Obama’s disdain for the War Powers Act? Harold Koh’s legal contortions? They likely will haunt us all in the future.

As for NATO, Obama leaves it in limbo, too. America ratified the concept of conditional participation – something perversely Americans spent decades arguing Europeans should not do when reluctant to meet their alliance burdens. (Let’s not forget Turkey and Germany). Now that the U.S. has made it a feature, not a bug, in NATO’s software, NATO may rue that, too. Today’s events give Brussels some ‘mo.

It may not last. The Germans are on top. The Russians definitely are out. Why budget strapped Americans carry the rest? A real question for some unless the alliance steps up investments.

Liberation of Tripoli, Special Forces, SAS, NATO, Khaddaffi, Misrata, Benghazi, Obama

Iraq 2003 showed everyone toppling a minor dictator often is the easy part. It’s what comes next that will make the most difference .Some already call for a NATO stabilization force on the ground. Or to use the “the Libyan model” on Syria.

Liberal interventionism is cresting. We see no evidence that many are thinking about making Libya work. Let alone serve as a model. Obama may lack the capital (real and political), to deploy the U.S. military elsewhere in similar fashion in the short term. That may not be a bad thing.

Dan Goure Gets It Wrong: Align Geo-Strategic Commitments First, Then DoD Budget

Dan Goure, VP of the Lexington Institute think tank, advises the Pentagon to draw a hard line against further budget cuts.

Defense has already been tagged with over $800 billion in spending cuts since the Obama Administration took office. These include almost $400 billion in savings from program terminations and restructuring that were announced in 2009, another $78 billion in efficiency savings that the department was not allowed to retain and around $350 billion in cuts announced this past April (and confirmed in last week’s debt pact). It is unclear how much more the Pentagon will be asked to absorb in budget cuts in the second round of deficit reductions due out from a special Congressional Committee in the Fall . . .

There needs to be a defense-led argument for how to do deficit reduction without harming national security. How much can we afford to reduce defense without placing security fundamentally at risk? . . . The Pentagon needs to draw a line in the sand. If Congress or the American people wish to cross that line, so be it. But DoD needs to make the consequences of such a decision for national security very clear (emphasis added).

Utterly wrong. The national command level question must be to re-consider (a) what is an appropriate American geo-strategic footprint that (b) we can we afford and then (c) how to allocate budgets among State, DoD and others. What are core American interests? Secondary interests? Tertiary. And why are these interests militarized? Do we even remember anymore?

Goure argues that DoD is really an entitlement – something we should pay regardless of seeming need. An interesting reveal of internal psychology. Goure is a nice guy, a creative fixture of the national security scene. Several ‘D.C. friends’ and their spouses have worked with him or for him over the years. He’s a creative mind whose loyalties are to the defense establishment as opposed to any external ideology like Neocons.

He’s right that blind cuts in a trigger mechanism would be harmful. It’s not a rational resource allocation. Worse, blind cuts still leave U.S. over-extended commitments and guarantees across the globe. Without the means to honor them. Worse than paper tiger. Uncertainty among friends and foes as to U.S. intentions is a recipe for international systemic upheaval.

He’s also right that key capabilities might be lost. Some might be critical. Others only seemingly so because the hold they exert on memory and the past. We heard many of the same arguments when Bill Perry ‘consolidated’ the defense industry in the 1990s. Aligning a defense budget and capabilities to a realistic American geostrategic footprint will help identify which design teams, capabilities and infrastructure merit a roll of the dice.

Status Quo’s End

What Goure and others can’t conceive of is status quo’s end. Defense as entitlement? It’s *been* socialized entitlement since Reagan I. This ends/means gap has been Topic A within the national security community since 1984. What’s disconcerting about Goure’s piece? When the moment finally came, he blinked. One expects more. Although he like most are understandably caught off guard by Movement radicalism. Perhaps this is a visceral fire-fighter’s response to the immediate blaze. Still, if someone like Goure is staking out this turf, it’s a not a good sign about the overall conversation. Nothing to date indicates the feeble NSC/WH team has any strategic depth. State? Without a WH on its side, lucky to be in the conversation.

The Hill? Reid counting on ‘war savings’ from drawdowns from Afghanistan and Iraq? Mechanistic. The wars failed. Some kind of drawdown (no matter how slow rolled) pre-baked.

Larger strategic opportunities are before us. What of the international system? If the U.S. military is no longer a subsidized, underlying public good what is the alternative system architecture? What are the upsides and downsides? Regional blocs? Trans-geographic economic zones? Who are the players? Why would they want to join rather than hug the U.S. free ride to its last gasp? If ever there was a time for creative deep think, it is now.

Some Cold War relics are no brainers. NATO? Why? Russia’s GDP is $16,800 per capita. Italy’s alone – credit crisis included – is $28,000. Even Lithuania’s is higher. If NATO sans U.S. (Chinese funded) kinetic power can’t resolve Libya across the Med, it shows how much they’ve been a free ride, not a rationale for for further U.S. subsidy. If Poland has realized its future is with the German economic sphere rather U.S. military, why can’t Washington? U.S. can return to a ‘balancer’ role, offshore. These grand strategic questions are far larger and more important than industrial welfare issues like the F-35, etc.

And so on. And then take a hard look at the services, their priorities and then the reduced budget is aligned.

Finally, what about Leon Panetta? Leon proved at the Agency that he’s good at playing the game. At DoD he’s got 5 real constituencies. First is the president (although with Obama that’s not a hard rule). Second is ‘the building’ (Pentagon). Third are the services. Fourth is the Hill. And 5th is industry. He’s got to prove to ‘the building’ and services he’s got their back. Otherwise he and the political system overall could face overtly covert insurrection. We weren’t surprised by Panetta’s hard line stance.

His opening gambit has to be hardline. Unlike Obama, Panetta knows one doesn’t fold at the beginning. What footprint, number and what budget components he has in mind as ‘wins’, ‘compromise’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘lose’ none of us know.

There’s little reason so far to believe the U.S. has the will and perspective to undertake any of the above sequential aligning of commitments with means/ends. History shows blunt force trauma always works in the end (‘mushroom clouds’, ‘niger’, etc.). If so, it must be one of the faintest of silver linings.

Rogue Client State Part 37

ISI helped coordinate the Mumbai terrorist attack? India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) has been saying that for years. Of course, RAW also claims ISI is responsible for Justin Bieber. Still, the whole broken clock thing. And it’s not like this court testimony is particularly firm or fact filled. Let’s run with it, shall we?

When In Doubt Consult With True Experts

Face it, talk to a London cabbie and they’ll give the same advice: logistics, logistics and logistics. As long as the Boy King wages a failed war in Afghanistan (now with extra-Petraeus, set to run an excessively militarized, less accountable CIA) we’ve got to try playing low key. 100,000 men without food, ammo and POL? Assume some flyboy will guarantee the Boy King air supply (how novel). 4 months and still it won’t be pretty, even without Italian armies running away.

If you hear anyone talking about ‘getting tough on Pakistan’ without providing a solution to this logistical choke hold that idiot – well, that’s probably a senior Administration official. But you see where we were going. Thus does Obama’s folly of a two-fold escalation come home to roost. Then COIN stupidity blocks other rational, strategic choices. We ‘need’ Pakistan because yadda, yadda, yadda — we’re geo-politically dim. U.S. engagement with the feeble Pakistani civilian government will somehow moderate and curtail the military’s primacy? Vapidity worthy of Cher Condi. Even in the medium term the smallest prospect borders on fanciful.

Throw COIN In The Trash Can

Toss COIN. The stupidest idea since Iraq. The U.S. has no vital strategic stake in who’s the Mayor of Kabul. As for the insanity of building a state out of disparate tribes and clans? We can’t even rebuild Michigan. Hello McFly? ‘Nuff said. Make extra sure Petraeus (and Stan) get three cups of tea when the news breaks.

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